The process of allowing interested crime victims to meet offenders in the presence of trained mediators now occurs in nearly 300 communities in the United States and more than 700 communities in Europe. When victim-offender mediation originated in Canada in 1974 and in the United States in 1978, there were only a handful of programs. With the growing interest in restorative justice and the rapid expansion of victim-offender mediation programs, it is important to gain a clear understanding of how the field is developing and becoming highly responsive and sensitive to the needs of crime victims. Every effort must be made to ensure that victims are not used simply as tools for offender rehabilitation, as they are in the dominant offender-driven juvenile and criminal justice systems. At the same time, the needs of offenders must also be considered.
This monograph presents specific criteria and recommendations to enhance the overall quality of victim-offender mediation programs and promote far more victim-sensitive practices in the field. The material presented is grounded in a yearlong assessment of the most current practices in the field, based on a nationwide survey. The material focuses on the practice of victim-offender mediation and dialogue regarding property crimes and minor assaults, the kinds of offenses typically addressed through mediation. A small but growing number of victims of severe violence are requesting to meet with their offenders. This is, however, an intensive and lengthy process that requires advanced training for the mediator. Fully addressing the multitude of issues related to working with severely violent victimizations such as sexual assault, attempted homicide, or murder is beyond the scope of this monograph.
The growing interest in victim-offender mediation arises from its capability to facilitate a real and understandable sense of justice for those most directly affected by crime: victims, victimized communities, and offenders. Victim-offender mediation breathes life into the emerging concept of restorative justice by asking, who was harmed, how can the harm be addressed, and who is held accountable for what happened. It seeks more balanced and effective juvenile and criminal justice systems that recognize the need to involve and serve victims and victimized communities. At the same time, it seeks to hold offenders more directly accountable to those they have harmed without overreliance upon costly incarceration.
Along with identifying specific recommendations for program development, the monograph sets forth guidelines for victim-sensitive victim-offender mediation. The guidelines address victim safety, screening of cases, the victim's and offender's choices, the mediator's obligations and responsibilities, victim and offender support, the use of victim-sensitive language, and training for mediators in victim sensitivity.